Issue 8 (Autumn 1996)


Perversion, Religion and Anxiety take the stage in this Autumn’s issue of our journal. Late last year Dr André Michels journeyed from Luxembourg to Dublin to deliver a series of lectures on Oscar Wilde and the subject of perversion. While the first of these aimed at presenting details of the life of Oscar Wilde, linking his homosexuality with his aesthetic theory and his work, the second draws on this ‘case history’ of the man who took on the cloak of the Wandering Jew, to elaborate the theoretical framework within which the enigma of perversion can be situated. We are pleased to be able to open this issue of THE LETTER with transcripts of his contributions, which are all the more valued and valuable since his remarks bear all the hallmarks of observations gleaned from clinical practice. Since the texts of his work produced here rely largely on a taped recording of those lectures, we hope these retain the texture of the author’s spoken offering.

Stephen Costello, during the discussion following André Michels’ first lecture, (a transcript of which accompanies the text given here), wondered what it was in Bosie that so captivated Wilde. His article, an annex to that discussion, represents some of this ‘wondering’ about the lure of the look, le regard.

Following the theme of perversion, Temmerman and Quackelbeen survey the literature with regard to the phenomenon and structure of Autoerotic Asphyxiophilia. The clinical ‘picture’ which the far-too-successful practitioner of this particular act presents, has on the whole provoked a kind of response which could be qualified as a Clinic of the Eye, the ‘picture’ serving as a gaze which is met by the gaze of the professional who can only always miss the point. (One is reminded of Petit Jean talking to petit Jacques: ‘You see that can! Well, it doesn’t see you!’).Their research underlines…Continue reading

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THE LETTER 08 (Autumn 1996) pages 1-16

Cormac Gallagher: It is a very great pleasure to welcome Dr. Andre Michels who has come to us from Luxembourg to give a lecture this evening on Oscar Wilde which he has entitled Aesthete and Homosexual. It probably sounds much better in French or Luxembourgeois but we have decided to keep the title anyway. Tomorrow morning he will be giving a talk in St. Vincent’s Hospital, to which you are all also very welcome, on The Hatred of the Father in Perversion, that is, the hatred of the father in perversion. This evening’s lecture we had planned, and he had intended, to be a more literary and general introduction to the problem of perversion. Tomorrow morning’s talk will be perhaps a little bit more technical.

I would just like to say a word or two. One of the reasons why Dr. Michels is here is that I read an article in a Strasbourg journal called Apertura in which he was one of the very few people that I have come across who has actually approached the question of Freud’s study of the Witz, the witticism, and the way in which it impacts on the style of analytical interpretation. Subsequently, we also met at the Congress of the European Foundation for Psychoanalysis in 1992. More recently again he has published an article in the last issue of The Letter, which I can recommend to you warmly, entitled Writing and Oedipus, in which he proposes some very interesting, I would say, axes for reflection. By training he is a doctor and a psychiatrist, trained, I just learned tonight, in part at least, with a very famous and I would hate to hesitate to say (but for me anyway), an almost avuncular figure in French psychoanalysis called Lucien Israel, who hasn’t been translated much into English but whose work has been extremely influential, who incidentally as Dr. Michels just…

THE LETTER 08 (Autumn 1996) pages 17-32

It is often difficult if not impossible to talk publicly about one’s own clinical cases, especially when this involves talking of intimate details that the psychoanalyst has been entrusted with and is expected to keep to himself. However, nothing prevents him from using his clinical experience to discuss material, clinical or literary, which has already been published, nor from giving his own interpretation of this.

In this paper, I will use the case of Oscar Wilde and attempt to give a clinical interpretation of it. We have all the necessary information on him for a detailed reading that will enable us to develop some hypothesis on perversion in general. An axis will serve as the guide of this research, namely via the way in which the functions of the father intervene in this case to determine it in every single aspect. This will be useful in expounding the pervert’s typical attitude towards the challenge of castration.

Let us begin by saying that this takes place insofar as castration do~s not intervene to ive a structure to the ‘ lace of the Other’ le lieu de ‘Autre), especially of the first Other in the life of the child-that means his mother. The pervert is constantly forced to take on the challenge pe!SOnally. At times it is so important in his life as an adult that it dominates the entire clinical picture. From this we can also refer to and develop the Freudian hypothesis which asserts the disavowal of castration to be at the origin of fetishism and hence also, at least implicitly, that it is paradigmatic of the defence mechanism present in perversion. Repression, though not absent, does not work at all like in the neurotic. I will try to give you an idea of how we could elucidate and give an interpretation of the defence mechanism which takes place in perversion…

THE LETTER 08 (Autumn 1996) pages 33-48

In vain your image comes to meet me

And does not enter me where I am who only shows it

Turning towards me you can find

On the wall of my gaze only your dreamt-of shadow.

I am that wretch comparable with mirrors

That reflect but cannot see

Like them my eye is empty and like them inhabited

By your absence which makes them blind.

Aragon, ‘Contre-chant’, Fou d’Elsa.

It was an instance, par excellence, in the Real. It concerned a dream told to Freud by a woman patient and which Freud analysed in chapter seven of The Interpretation of Dreams. A father had been waiting and watching at the bed-side of his sick son for days and nights. After the boy had died, the father went into the next room to lie down, but left the door open so that he could see into the room in which his son’s body was laid out with tall candles surrounding it. An old man had been told to keep watch over it and was seated beside the body murmuring prayers. After an interval spent sleeping, the father dreamt that his son was standing beside his bed, taking hold of his arm and whispering reproachfully to him: ‘Father, can’t you see I’m burning’. The father wakes up, notices a bright glare from the next room, hurries in and finds the old watchman sleeping and discovers that the wrappings and one of the arms of his son’s dead body had been burned by a candle. He concluded that the candle over-turned, the sheets of the boy’s bed caught fire while he slept next door. It was an accident, a contingent, capricious and meaningless event in the impossible Real which always comes without having been called…

THE LETTER 08 (Autumn 1996) pages 49-70


On the subject of man’s sexual life, history teaches us at least h~o, ostensibly opposite facts: first of all that throughout all cultures sexuality has a virtually endless series of variations but also that, despite its public expressions, it also remains highly concealed, highly secretive; as if precisely in this domain man were a multiple Janus figure.

Autoerotic asphyxia (AEA), also referred to as asphyxiophilia, is one of these possible types of expression, the private nature of which is stressed par excellence. At any time the way in which it is viewed is a function of the appraisals that are commonly accepted at the time when the evaluation is formulated. At one time the practice applies as a refined routine in highly cultivated circles, at another it belongs to the classical range of services supplied by prostitutes and finally, when viewed. from the sphere of action of the (forensic) psychiatrist or the sexologist, it is a sexual ‘aberration’, a perversion.

In what follows, we shall be presenting a critical status quaestionis of the available scientific sources on the subject, in which ultimately, based on the phenomenological description of its enactment, we shall be elucidating on the potential contribution of psychoanalysis.

Literature and anthropology

With regard to the description of AEA, the earliest scientific source probably dates back to 1902. Written by Colliez it reports !he case of a twenty five year old man whose gerutals were bound up with a leather…

THE LETTER 08 (Autumn 1996) pages 71-82

This article arose out of an evening spent with the members of the Association of Moral Theology Teachers discussing the relationship between religion and psychology Being knowledgeable people they were able to put my remarks to some use of their own but I was left with an uneasy feeling of having traded on the commonsense experience that twenty-five years as a psychologist can hardly fail to bring rather than having made an attempt to formalise and articulate intelligibly the link between religion and psychology as I am attempting to understand it.

The Limits of Psychological Inquiry

A discussion of the relationship between religion and psychology ought to begin, it seems to me, with a lowering of the expectations of what can be expected from the side of psychology.

Psychology strives to be scientific -although its precise status among the scientists remains a matter of dispute-and can thus make no claim of offering a complete or well rounded understanding of human life. This disclaimer is not easily tolerated by people who turn to psychology in the hope that men and women who have given their lives to the experimental, or in any case the empirical, study of what human beings actually say, do, think or feel should be in a better…

THE LETTER 08 (Autumn 1996) pages 83-94

The ethical question of the analyst is included in the way he gives an interpretation. In this way his knowledge or better said his ‘supposedly known’, is inscribed in a certain relation with desire. It is at this point of the encounter that the analyst, supposed to know and understand unconscious desire, is called upon. About this Freud is absolutely clear and tells us that …

… we refused most emphatically to turn a patient who puts himself into our hands in search of help into our private property, to decide his fate for him, to force our own ideals upon him, and with the pride of a Creator to form him in our own image and see that it is good … and the patient should be educated to liberate and fulfil his own nature, not to resemble ourselves

Freud offers us a striking example in an article that appeared in 1928 in the magazine Imago, entitled A Religious Experience. This text shows the extent to which it is necessary for the analyst to ‘know’ Freud and Freudian analysis; as we will see, this knowledge is ‘already there’ for Freud. But knowledge is ‘already there’ not because it is a non-sense to which a sense is given, but rather because Freud consistently upholds the body of knowledge already constituted by Freudian analysis, and which can be called upon in each case that he uses as demonstration of it.

Is this not the point at which there is an opposition between structure and analogy? With respect to knowledge, from the moment that interpretation is employed, from which text is it extracted? Is it a text to be found, or a text to be invented? …

THE LETTER 08 (Autumn 1996) pages 95-103

Lacan makes it clear in his Seminar on Anxiety that  anxiety is a phenomenon, that it has an object and moreover there seems to be a precise place  where  we  can  locate  this (phenomenon)  But to do  this  we need  to understand a little of how  the subject comes into  being and  how  in turn  the  subversion of the  subject  will  come  about. But  this  in  turn  will necessitate our  having  to confront our  own anxiety, and who likes to have to do  that? The coming into being  of the subject will necessarily involve him in jouissance but  this kind  of enjoyment  as such  is really  forbidden  to the speaking being. But it is through this  jouissance that we can begin to learn something about  our indebtedness  to the Other, because  of something having been  lost  – this  lost object which Lacan  came  to  name the objet a.

Two questions arise at this time- what is this object and what does to subvert the subject imply? This is a question which  cannot  be arrived at fully at this stage but it is fair to say that the object in question is the objet a, the object which  causes our  desire  and  that  the subversion must  be a little like  turning the  back to the front, -the reversal that Freud has shown to take place with the Uncanny. This will involve the doubling around of all the old familiar things, including the  ego itself, into something else which  we  can  see in a completely new way and which may involve our having to take a step back into another area of darkness, where vestiges of childhood pain and anxiety  lie dormant. We then realise that we are in familiar territory.

But, we will do everything in our power to avoid having to confront this anxiety – because  when we get too close to this object which causes our desire we know that we too may be easily made not necessary…

THE LETTER 08 (Autumn 1996) pages 104-113

Ella Sharpe  (1875-1947) came to psychoanalysis from a background in literature, particularly Shakespeare, and  teacher  training.   She  became  a student of psychoanalysis at the Medico-psychological Clinic in London in 1917 and  three  years  later  went  to Berlin for  analysis  with Hans  Sachs,  a non-medical analyst who  shared her  interest  in  literature.  (He had also written on  symbolism with  Otto  Rank  and  had   been  well  regarded  in Ernest  Jones’ seminar paper The Theory of   Symbolism) Ella  Sharpe would later say that her motivation  from the beginning of her involvement in the field of psychoanalysis was not to cure but to understand. She began  to work  in accordance  with  two articles  of faith: an absolute belief  in  psychic determinism, and   that  a  process was  set  in motion in  analysis.2  By 1923 Ella Sharpe  had returned to  London and become a Member of the  British  Psycho-Analytic Society and quickly became involved in teaching. A series  of lectures  to students entitled The Technique  of Psychoanalysis has  been  regarded  as  ‘classic’. Here and elsewhere she initiated many lines of thought  that  have since become  very much  associated with the British independents. With Ernest  Jones  and Joan  Riviere  she  supported Melanie  Klein  in  her  1926  attack on Anna Freud’s book on child analysis and while she acknowledged  Klein’s ‘special  insight into  the unconscious life’ she  remained suspicious of her ‘theoretical  formulations’.  Raynor groups Sharpe with  Joan  Riviere  and Melanie Klein as the female analysts around  Jones when he was…

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